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Bonga’s doppelgänger might make Wizards fans cry

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NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Washington Wizards
Isaac Bonga defends.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Next up through the statistical doppelgänger machine is Wizards forward Isaac Bonga. The name that popped as closest match made me laugh out loud. It might make Wizards fans cry. But I’ll get to that.

Acquired when then-interim general manager Tommy Sheppard shoehorned the Wizards into the Anthony Davis to the Lakers trade, Bonga got his first real playing time in Washington. He received just 120 minutes as a 19-year old rookie in Los Angeles, and he was awful when he played.

Still, he’s tall and possessed of reasonable NBA-level athleticism, as well as enough ball skills to have some scouts imagine he might even play PG. It took Wizards head coach Scott Brooks about five minutes of training camp to peg Bonga as a low-usage defensive wing specialist who might shoot threes well enough to be considered a 3&D guy.

The 3&D designation is yet to be earned. The accuracy was almost there (.352 shooting from three vs. a league average of .358), but the volume was definitely not — just 2.7 attempts per 100 team possessions (league average was 6.8).

Defensively, the plus/minus metrics liked him, though the defense part of my PPA metric was less enthusiastic. At minimum, he’s a decent defender. But, a bit like Jared Jeffries (no, that’s not a hint), he’s a defensive specialist in part because he does so little on offense.

Anyway, you’re here for doppelgängers.

The statistical doppelgänger machine compares players across a bunch of pace-adjusted stat categories, as well as age and playing time. I don’t include position, but players tend to group by position anyway.

Steel your heart, here are Bonga’s top 10 statistical comps (similar production at similar age):

  1. Jan Vesely, Washington Wizards, age 21
  2. Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City Thunder, 23
  3. Antoine Wright, New Jersey Nets, 22
  4. Kenny Dennard, Kansas City Kings, 23
  5. Bill Garnett, Dallas Mavericks, 23
  6. Matt Barnes, Los Angeles Clippers, 23
  7. Alvin Scott, Phoenix Suns, 22
  8. Trevor Ariza, New York Knicks, 20
  9. Mickael Gelabale, Seattle Supersonics, 23
  10. OG Anunoby, Toronto Raptors, 20

Jan. Vesely. At the top.

But here’s the thing: Vesely didn’t need to suck. The Wizards, in their infinite wisdom at the time (surely they wouldn’t make this kind of mistake again), took a 6-10 international player who could run and jump but not shoot or pass and for some reason decided he was the next Dirk Nowitzki.

After getting two-thirds of his shots at-rim in his rookie season (the one that comps to Bonga), and almost nothing from more than 10 feet — and being reasonably successful — he inexplicably came back bricking midrange shots. His confidence shot, he became useless instead of a bouncy rim protector, offensive rebounder and lob threat. Naturally, he went back to Europe, regained his game and became terrific.

Bonga’s path, which is actually not much like Vesely’s, is clear — play defense, shoot threes when open, attack a closeout once or twice a game, and be a tertiary ball handler. If he does that, he’ll be a useful player. If the Wizards try to force him into some cockamamie role...he won’t be.

The rest of the top 10 is kinda mixed but overall encouraging. Roberson remained offensively challenged but was also an All-Defense level defender.

Dennard and Garnett were early-80s scrubs who didn’t last. Alvin Scott was decent in the 80s. Gelabale had an interesting NBA career — two bad years at ages 23 and 24 followed by a long hiatus. He came at 29, posted a 90 PPA in 644 minutes, and never played in the NBA again.

The Wizards would be happy if Bonga turns out to have the impact that others on the list — Barnes, Ariza, Anunoby — have had.

By the way, number 11 on the similars list was the 2014-15 version of Otto Porter. Their pace-adjusted production was similar in a lot of ways. The big difference: Porter that year had 50% more true shooting attempts than Bonga did this season.

Poll

Who’s next in The Doppelgänger Machine?

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    Davis Bertans
    (50 votes)
  • 43%
    Moritz Wagner
    (64 votes)
  • 22%
    Bradley Beal
    (33 votes)
147 votes total Vote Now